Written by Paul J. Bucknell on January, 27, 2020
Handling Life Crises in 3 Periods of Joseph’s Life (Genesis 37-50)
The premise underlying this reflection on Joseph’s life bases itself on the fact that God has shown how He has blessed specific individuals like Jacob and Joseph. We too, if we seek God through belief in Christ, can similarly enter a relationship with God and entrust Him to wisely and kindly lead us. God’s past dealings with His people provide ongoing insight into the way He treats His people. The materialistic perspective can be automatically ruled out: “God wants to make His people rich.” “God desires to heal me.” God has a comprehensive plan that incorporates our lives. We need to be receptive to the part God has ordained our lives within His broad and insightful plan, whether or not we can see the favor of God at any particular point.
The Holy Scriptures spend almost 13 chapters of Genesis highlighting Joseph. As the son of Jacob, we find that Joseph serves a transitional character for connecting Israelite’s time in pre-Egypt (Canaan), Egypt, and post-Egypt (which is found in Exodus). By looking closely at Joseph’s timeline, we can find three distinct times of his life.
- The Period of Promise (Pre-Egypt as a young person, ages 1-16)
- The Period of Perplexity (In Egypt as a slave, ages 17-29)
- The Period of Power (In Egypt as ruler, ages 30-110)
(1) The Period of Promise
- Pre-Egypt as a young person (ages 1-16)
Joseph was born in Haran and accompanied his father, Jacob, when he traveled back to Canaan. Joseph saw Jacob tremble when he heard that his uncle Esau coming with 400 men. This also was the time when he heard Jacob wrestled with God. Not much later in the land of Canaan, Joseph had those God-given dreams and retold them to his father and brothers (Gen 37). Because of extreme jealousy, his brothers plotted to eliminate Joseph’s life. At 17 his brothers rescued from the pit of death but sold Joseph as a slave to those who would trade him in Egypt.
We must keep in mind Joseph’s dream, Jacob’s affectionate love for him, and the betrayal of his brothers. These three elements would go with him to Egypt. He did not go alone.
Abuse like this is wrong—to be sure, but, like in Joseph’s case, it is not that God is not overseeing the damage. God limits the harm to where Joseph could handle it and grow through it. Despite the emotional anguish, though, he also was loved and had a set of intriguing dreams to accompany him to Egypt.
We must never excuse abuse, but nor we dare say anyone has to succumb to the pain and trouble therein. God is greater than all and will bless those who faithfully seek Him. Joseph is a beautiful example of this.
- What blessings and trauma did you experience when growing up?
- Do others know about these things? Who?
- How do you handle those difficult childhood experiences?
- Do you tend to only look at the negative side of things? List some positive ways the Lord is guiding you through life.
- Have you learned to trust God through difficult life trials?
(2) The Period of Perplexity
- In Egypt as a slave, ages 17-29
Joseph was more than a slave; he was rejected, despised, and sold for silver by his brethren (i.e., a type of Jesus). Think of the thoughts that would fly through his mind. At one moment, he was loved by his father, catering to his needs. Now, he is thrown into a foreign land with idols located everywhere. People speaking a foreign language surrounded him. Before a beloved son, but now Joseph was just another of the many unloved slaves. At 17, he once had his whole life mapped (i.e., dreamed) out, but now he was enslaved to others who dictated his every turn. Total strangers directed his life; they didn’t care for him. Somewhere along the way, however, he went through a time of transformation.
Joseph took the faithful service that he gave to Jacob, his father, and applied it to his service to Potiphar, his new master. He could have responded in many other ways—being disgruntled, bitter, wounded, spiteful, etc. In fact, when we more carefully look at his life, several times, Joseph faced towering walls blocking his way to success. But no matter what, he went back to stage one, where he resolutely determined to do his best in whatever circumstance he found himself. Be sure, many doubts flew about his head as they do with us, but his ‘grin and bear it’ attitude persisted. As he followed through, he saw God’s blessings on his life—up to a certain point. Each time, life took an unexpected dive. Even when he rightly interpreted the chief wine-server’s dream, he was not rightly rewarded—at least for several years. But God never forgot Joseph’s diligence over these long 12 years—never.
We assume Joseph maintained his trust in God through this time but cannot be dogmatic about that. At the close of his life, however, he recorded God’s saving hand in his life. My guess is that it took a while for him to recover his faith, not having any other godly advisor about him. Perhaps, as God began to bless him, he saw a replication of how God dealt with his father, Jacob. He, unquestionably, heard Jacob’s story about God’s dealing with him so he could begin to seek God even in treacherous times.
- How do you respond to negative unchangeable events in life?
- What, if any, life ensnarements are you in now?
- How did Joseph handle his problems?
- Can you do the right thing even though it does not bring immediate reward?
- Why is it that we can seek and trust God to help us during these times?
(3) The Period of Power
- In Egypt as the Ruler, ages 30-110
Only later, after Pharaoh promoted to Joseph as his righthand man and ruler over Egypt, could he begin to grapple with the way God treated him. Seventeen long years of disappointment and collapse of hope repeatedly plagued his life. Again, and again, he had to reset his determination to serve faithfully despite the undeserved treatment that he suffered.
But now, the chief wine server to Pharaoh finally remembered Joseph, who he left in the dungeon. Joseph was brought up out of the dungeon and given a chance to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Would he again be displaced? He probably was a bit jittery, at least for a while. But, in the end, Joseph could see why God tried and trained him. He told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20).
This stage of power, fulfillment, and control brings its own temptations into our lives. Although few of us reach this point, it becomes our ultimate test of faithful service. Would Joseph slack off in his faithfulness? Would he betray his brothers after his beloved father passed away? No, he didn’t. Instead, Joseph confirmed his love for his brothers and brought further stability into their lives by verbally and otherwise establishing God’s greater purpose to them.
I was shocked when figuring out his age that Joseph ruled Egypt for 80 years. Through the feast and famine of 14 years, he wisely served. But then, after having absolute power over the country through securing their property (he, the government) and saving their lives. Joseph could finally see how God fit his life into God’s more excellent plan. Never did Joseph allow the luxury, power, and admiration get to his head so that he forgot God and the Promised Land. For Joseph, God’s greater plan included a trip back for him to the Promised Land. “Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here” (Genesis 50:25). He never forgot to include his life into God’s higher plans, even when preparing to die.
- What does the warning mean, “Don’t let success go to your head?”
- How do we know that Joseph did not allow success to delude him?
- Are there areas in your life that you would be deemed successful by others? List them.
- Have you seen, either on the receiving or giving end, a person becoming a ‘different’ person because of success?
- How did Joseph carefully guard over his life by keeping God’s broader plan in mind? How does that help?
For further study on Joseph
- Jan 17, 2020 ... Genesis 50:15-26: Grace to Freely Forgive: Joseph
- Genesis 42-47:12 discusses how to deal with disillusionment and disappointment through the many tragic situations Joseph, his brothers and Jacob found ...
- Genesis 37-50 Account of Joseph provides five reasons this section of Genesis 37-50 on Joseph is so long compared to other parts of the scriptures especially ...
- Introduction. Joseph’s rags-to-riches story teaches us the key to a successful life is to trust God. By allowing God to use him wherever He pleases and whenever ...